Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’


Tsegi. That’s what Canyon de Chelly is to the Navajo people. Home.

It’s an odd sort of thing, and a great controversy I might add, that this national park site is also a home. Canyon de Chelly is not only home to many families of Diné (the real tribal name of the Navajo), but several of those families live in a truly traditional, simple manner, quietly farming the fertile soils of the valley floor, shunning modern conveniences and menaces. Thankfully, the Park Service in conjunction with the Navajo Nation restricts visitor access to the valley floor. I’m sure it’s a hard life, but I have great respect for the people who live it. Frankly, there is a lot of appeal in the simple life (and no, I’m not talking about a crappy reality show starring two talentless bimbos). Look at where our complicated lives have led us? Fat, lazy, conceited, arrogant. Perhaps a little simplicity is just what this country needs.

Canyon de Chelly is a gorgeous place. Absolutely stunning. I visited on a cloudy, drizzly day, and it was still a beautiful spot. The sandstone walls interact with daylight and cast a golden hue over the entire canyon. Climbing down to the canyon floor lifts one spirits, troubles are left on the canyon’s rim as you descend in golden splendor to a simpler, wholesome time. Of course, you have to turn around and go back up again, but for a while, you can just revel in the beauty of the spot. It can be downright spiritual (if you believe in such things).

Massacre Cave Overlook © 2006 Scott Speck Fine Art Photography

This place does have “spiritual significance” written all over it. First, there’s the natural beauty. Then there are the old Anasazi ruins sitting in the niches of the canyon walls, direct reminders of native ancestors, ghosts of the past. These aren’t malicious ghosts, the aura given off (again, if you believe in such things) is good, as if these spirits are guarding over the inhabitants of the canyon, guarding over you as well as long as you respect the land on which you trod, as long as you respect the rights of the residents of this land. Then there’s glorious Spider Rock, which has special significance to the Navajo (and, I’m sure, to the tribes who lived in the canyon before them). I know I’m laying in the mysticism really thick here, but such are my memories of my visit to Canyon de Chelly. I’m quite fond of Native American spirituality, that special connection between man and the natural world that most religions pave over as they build their next UberChurch, or blow up with bombs strapped to the waistbands of their children.

Cliff Dwelling © 2006 Scott Speck Fine Art Photography

I do have to say one negative about my visit. This was my first visit to a real Indian reservation, and frankly, I felt really uncomfortable. Although the Navajo reservation is better than most, there is a great deal of poverty and not much opportunity on Indian reservations in America. It’s painful to look at, for this is a people who were truly victimized by the country, and not just some folks who fell on hard times. These people have had hard times for hundreds of years, hard times because they were forced to have hard times by people who were afraid of them. And now we populate their reservations with fast-food outlets & alcohol, yet make such cumbersome rules that industry doesn’t have much of a chance (unless, of course, casinos pay off Congressmen to allow gambling, but that’s another issue).

Looking Towards Cliff Edge © 2006 Scott Speck Fine Art Photography

I, a white suburbanite tourist, was clearly the outsider in the Navajo reservation, and I felt like a trespasser. The locals do look upon you with quiet contempt, contempt passed down through sadness from generation to generation. I don’t begrudge them their contempt, for it’s hard to feel anger at them when their people have faced oppression of some kind or another for hundreds of years. Contempt is part of their very being now, every generation knows full well of the damage inflicted upon previous generations, they are reminded of it on a daily basis as they live their lives. I know I shouldn’t feel guilt for the sins of my fathers, but I can’t help it. It’s my Catholic upbringing, I feel guilty about pretty durn near much everything. At least, in this case, there’s a reason.

I would like to see nothing more than all the native tribes of this country get out of poverty. I’m not a big fan of casinos, for they don’t add any value to the people or the country. I’d love to see clean industries, or efficient agriculture, or cultural attractions, or something viable, sustainable, and effective, in place at all of America’s Indian reservations to bring these folks out of poverty yet keep their cultural identity intact. Why hasn’t this happened yet? In this enlightened day and age, why are there still these pockets of poverty? It’s because no one’s trying, that what I’ll wager. I haven’t researched it fully, but I’m sure there are a lot of stupid rules and regulations about such things happening on Indian lands, and damn it, they should be changed. It’s a national embarrassment, to be frank.

It’s long past time we fixed it.

South View © 2006 Scott Speck Fine Art Photography

[Sadly, I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited the Canyon. These photos are taken, with permission, from Scott Speck’s Fine Art Photography. More terrific Canyon pictures, in large-scale glory, are here. He has a real interesting eye for photography, check out his site for more.]



Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Fine Art Photography by Scott Speck

Navajo Nation Tourism Department (including horseback tours of the canyon)

Google map to Canyon de Chelly

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts